Allan Gurganus on John Cheever


Over at The New York Review of Books, writer Allan Gurganus gives us a peek into his relationship with John Cheever while Gurganus was but a mere student in his twenties, and Cheever was The John Cheever, living in Iowa, without his family, and teaching.

 In 1973, on my first day at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the secretary read from her list, “Go to Room 210 for Cheever.” “To READ Cheever?” “To meet Cheever, he’s your teacher, son. The old guy’s alive and right upstairs, at least he was a few minutes ago.
But hurry.”



As a companion, [Cheever] proved not just mischievous, he was Mischief itself. Constant word games, inventing naughty stories about each table of fellow diners. He staged a childish sulk if while walking the campus we ran into my undergrad Swedish-American boyfriend. Cheever expressed ecstasy over some oil rainbow flung across a puddle. He would skinny-dip in icy public rivers while you stood pretending to be a lamppost. Confronting Iowa hostesses who looked too much like Margaret Dumont, he’d goose those ladies. He would. The wisest of them giggled, “Oh, now John, you bad bad boy. Not again!” He was Cole Porter one minute, Groucho the next, suddenly a drunken stumblebum, then the wisest of Chekhov’s cynics. John was selfish and ruined. He was a child, he was a genius. He was a scamp, he was a man.

Samantha Abrams is: an Iowan living in San Francisco, a writer of nonfiction, a wearer of stripes, and, most importantly, an avid reader. More from this author →